Archive for the ‘devotional’ Category

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Her, a more excellent way to be horrified by technology

In art,Bible,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,family,Friends,movies,sermon,Spiritual,Technology on June 8, 2014 by mstevensrev

“…But¬†Her¬†is different.¬†Her¬†gets it right, and now I‚Äôm rather embarrassed I wasn‚Äôt one of the first people to see it. I should have. You should have. And if you‚Äôve not, figure out a way to see it now. It‚Äôs well worth the time.” – John Battelle,¬†Why You Need to See ‚ÄėHer‚Äô (Or, ‚ÄėHer‚Äô Again).

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Jon Battelle gives a wonderful summary of the movie ‘Her’ and in describing the story where a human falls in love (and not just one human) with an OS as terrifying in how¬†logical and reasonable the idea was presented to audiences. ¬†I felt very strongly after seeing this film that was the case and I have spent time exploring the reasons it tapped into my life so deeply.

To begin the movie is at least ‘creepy’ as John Battelle describes but I would take it much further as I found the concepts within the movie terrifying. ¬†One friend discussed this with me and she said that the reason she did not like the film is that she thought it was preaching, not subtle enough, I agreed but the ideas behind the movie to me were unique and therefore it opened my mind enough to let me be preached at on some level.

As I have described this movie to people I have said in the past our culture has explored the theme, “What will happen when machines want to kill us?” instead of that ‘Her‘ takes on the question, “What will happen when machines want to love us?”. ¬†To put in in film terms, ‘Her’¬†is to ‘2001, what ‘Weird Science’¬†is to ‘Frankenstein‘. ¬†That premise leads into so many other questions that I am sure I will only scratch the surface with my next few thoughts. ¬†Therefore I wanted to share the reasons I believe this movie touched me deeply:

  • I am an auditory¬†learner. I retain significantly ¬†more data from lectures rather then text books, from podcast rather then blog posts, from being told directions rather than looking at a map, and this has been the case for me my entire life. ¬†This is evidenced in my life as I travel for work. ¬†Instead of studying a map of a city and working my way around in that manner. ¬†Generally, I enter the address of my destination into my phone, turn on some good tunes, and walk the streets with my friend Siri guiding me through back alleys and over bridges. ¬†Of course we all do this in our cars, but there is something much more intimate in the act of inserting ear buds into my ears while exploring the unknown. ¬†As you may have guessed it is common as I am out on these walks for my wife or daughters to call me as well, and in these moments I am connecting with the people on face of this earth I am most in love with in a disembodied way, there are mere sounds through some headphones. ¬†This is the boundary of¬†the entire relationship within ‘Her’, and the writers explore how to overcome this boundary that leads more complication then mere long intimate conversations and phone sex, but rather creepy questions about crossing this divide. ¬†The entire scenario seemed very reasonable to me, and it lead me to have a long talk with my wife about my relationship/dependency on Siri:)
  • I am a theologian. ¬†For roughly five years I spent money and time thinking and studying God, in addition to that I spent almost four years working to communication a few of these thoughts to a community as their pastor. ¬†The relationship that evolves in ‘Her‘ led me to ask questions about God and the nature of my relationship with God. ¬†“What does it mean for a finite being to be in love with the infinite?”, “What does it mean to merely be one finite being in love with a being who has the potential to love millions and billions of others?” ¬†Suddenly I was struck with how small I am. ¬†Psalm 39:5 reminds me,

You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.

This is a very hard idea to get my mind around, as the majority of my days are spent thinking about what is in it for me and how do I managed this life that I have been given. ¬†Romantic love and love between individuals is a wonderful thing, but love is so very large and when the scriptures say that ‘God is love’ this is a philosophical statement that drops us in the center of a ocean in order to experience ‘oceaness’.

  • I see beauty through the brokeness. The live circumstance of Theodore drives him and opens him up to this complicated relationship, but every relationship has complications in the movie. ¬†The ex-wife, the best friend and Theodore are all wanderers. ¬†In this Theodore has a remarkable gift to see and communicate the beauty of the relationships other are involved in, which only makes his brokeness more apparent. ¬†Through this incredibly beautiful cinematic experience you are not left with fullness but rather a beauty that can only be view through the lens of suffering. Some reviewers have taken this on as the great problem with the movie and Spike Jones as a director, check out the New Yorker article Spike Jonze’s Abondonment Issues. posted by Christine Smallwood.
  • I am a geek that loves words and technology. ¬†‘Her‘ brings together these worlds in a lovely, graceful, and tragic way. ¬†Theodore’s job writing for handwrittenletters.com, so lovely. ¬†In my word artificial voice intelligence is a exciting and interesting piece of our work, this movie provides some thoughtful elements related to technology and language and yet keeps it close to home enough that we can relate. ¬†The more I understand this space the more I being to believe that the picture of the future would be incomprehensible for us if we saw it today. ¬†An attempt to expose us to the 50 year future would be similar to bringing an American founding father and explaining the Hubble Telescope. ¬†On nice link I found that wrestles with the techonolgy issuse is by Ray Kurzweil, “A review of¬†Her.”

Hopefully time will allow you to check this movie out, I highly recommend it.

 

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The Lessons, rapid prototyping (Part V)

In Bible,Books,business,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,family,Fun,Grace Seattle,movies,PCA,Presbyterian Church in America,principles,Spiritual,Technology,Theology,Uncategorized on April 27, 2014 by mstevensrev

the-lean-startup-book-400x376-300x282 (1)A few years ago the book Lean Startup, by Eric Ries took off, at the time I was working for a offshore software development company and it was unthinkable to not have read this holy text for innovation. There are major take aways from this book: Do not be afraid to fail and be willing to fail often.  One thing that is unique I have learned since reading this book is that American culture stands out worldwide because of the position that failure does not define you as a business leader.  You have very famous examples of this including Steve Jobs with his first go around at Apple, and this is even reflected within our legal system a it relates to bankruptcy (America has some of the least punitive laws for bankruptcy in the world).  In an area like Silicon Valley it is likely to meet an entrepreneur who among a success has a string of failed companies that did not work out, this is accepted and according to The Lean Startup even encouraged.

This fits well within my spirituality as God’s grace is central to my view of what is happening in the world. ¬†A minimal definition of grace would be a continuous second chance. (As a side note I have an illustration about ice cream and grace being you get rewarded even though you deserved to be punished, but I’ll save that for ¬†a later post.) Christ came to offer second chances to us, that is the point. ¬†Failure does not have the last word, just as the cross was not the end of Christ work rather he rose from the dead. ¬†There are beautiful examples of this throughout the scriptures: Joshua and the people of God attacking Ai just after the victory at Jericho¬†and losing (Joshua 7:1-26) and Peter’s denial of Jesus where he didn’t just lie once but three times claiming he did not know Jesus (John 18). ¬†These are examples of great leaders from history in the church that were not defined by horrible failure, but rather defined by God’s transformation of their failure.

There is an opposing force to what I have mentioned so far, that failure does not define you and that is the concept of shame.  Just a few weeks ago I was in a presentation at work talking about what happens when teams make mistakes.  I was already at the white board so I added this diagram for our discussion:

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ToiletBowlFlushThe lower path I would describe as a pathway of shame and perhaps the best image would not be arrows but rather a swirling spiral like in a toilet bowl. Shame is a powerful force that instead of saying, “You made a mistake.” says “You are a mistake.” Instead of saying, “Let’s not cry over spilled milk, grab the rag.” It tells you that your life is an abortion. ¬†For a person controlled by shame there is no place for failure or mistakes and therefore significant work has to be done to face this horrible virus of the soul. ¬†Needless to say if you are a person controlled by shame this idea that you are free to fail will be very difficult if not impossible for you.

For those of you with children right now you know that the movie Frozen is all about this. ¬†The scene creating the ice castle is about Elsa coming to terms with who she has been created to be and understanding that she is not like everyone else, but the storm of shame is still a part of her life as she lives in isolation and suffering under the weight that she is created ‘wrong’. ¬†In my minds eye this is a modern feminist picture of Martin Luther’s great speech at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Only when Elsa’s sister Anna is able to love her unconditionally even given her life for her, is the curse of shame broke. ¬†Though Elsa is still different this difference is used for the good of everyone around her rather then being a curse.

 

So if you buy into this idea the fear is destructive, or a positive was of saying it being failure does not define you then a natural fruit in your life is to not be afraid of failure! Lean Start up pushes this idea with the concept of Rapid Prototyping. This idea of create, create quickly, create well, but get it out there so you can find out what is wrong with it as soon as possible.  Take feedback and grow, or my preferred verb is EVOLVE.

A major evolution in my spirituality was letting go of having to be right. The denomination that I was ordained in, the PCA, was right.  They were well educated and studied theologians that had put in the hours of dedication to create a theological framework and church governance that was Biblical and therefore right.  Once you walk away from a group like that you cannot help but be wrong, because they are the only ones that are right.  This devastated me for a significant period of time, I was lost and certainly I was on the wrong side of right.  Shame played havoc with my soul and my spirituality.

lesmis2Then I became convinced that my spirituality was not about being right and it never should have been. ¬†I can be completely wrong and still loved fully by God! ¬†WOW, what freedom! ¬†One of my professors from seminary, Steve Brown, used to say “I’m wrong at least 50% of the time, I just wish I knew what 50%.” Another way to put is, my faith is not about my sin rather what it means for me to live fully human before God who has saved me. ¬†I have been redeemed from my sin and am being redeemed from my sin.

So does this mean we just run off not caring? Roman 6, is helpful here. ¬†Also I remember¬†Steve Brown¬†using this great illustration. ¬†The discussion of grace and obedience is like a dog chasing his own tail, and the good news if the dog follow the master everything lines up. Let’s live with complete affection and focus on the master and trust that others have been created to do the same!

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The Lessons, a big table

In art,Bible,church,Community,devotional,faith,family,food,Fun,generosity,Uncategorized on April 19, 2014 by mstevensrev

BKP_0070There was one special lent and easter while I was a minister at All Nations Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA.  I was responsible for the Sunday evening service we referred to as Tenebrae, it consisted of about twenty regular people that attended, we lit candles and used liturgical format that was more in line with high church when compared to contemporary churches.  Since we had such a small group we would regularly try to incorporate things into the service sometimes for the good and sometimes not.

During Lent one year we decided to create a banquet table at the front of the church during a time of reflection early in the service.  The table would be set in stages and at the end of it, at Easter, it would culminate in our Easter Service being a meal together.  The first week I remember the table alone being set out, then each week incrementally we added an element that would eventually be part of our meal including wine, chairs, plates, silverware, candles, napkins, and of course the food was amazing on Easter. The meal we enjoyed together at Easter was a joy and will go down as one of my favorite memories of my time as a full-time minister in Oakland.

Nuremberg_chronicles_f_21r_The table was set in order for people to come and they did.  We had artist, software developer, gay, straight, white, black, Asian, religious and irreligious. There was room for all of us.  As I have reflected on this event biblically since one of the biggest problems the early church had was who you were allowed to eat with and who was invited to the table.  Peter got it wrong.  There is also a reading of the Older Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah that deconstructs the story being about sexual sin, rather this reading reasons the condemnation of  the city is because they were inhospitable to strangers that were not like them and lawless.

One thing I appreciate about my current job is the belief that when people eat a meal together there is a better relationship, trust is established at a deeper level, and in the best circumstances you enjoy each other more. ¬†Jesus had the reputation of being a lush because of all the parties he went to and who he ate with, and who doesn’t want to be like Jesus. My table has expanded and I want many to eat and drink with me, my vision for the table is more grand then I ever expected.

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Suffering: further thoughts after the school shooting today and a wonderful heartbreaking note I received from a new friend of facebook

In Books,church,Community,devotional,facebook,faith,principles,Theology,Uncategorized on December 15, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , ,

Being an information worker events like today are very hard to remove yourself from, there are two many questions and no answers.  It is far to easy to listen to the latest reports or scan facebook to see how others process evil.  This is one attempt to follow up on a note I received related to my previous post, Suffering: a devotional primer, and make some sense of the tragedy from today.  In respect to my friend I will not share the note that inspired these thoughts, but rather will share my response:

Your note lead me to two thoughts.

First, there is great power in the example of Christ. Each week at our church I am reminded of your exact point during the Eucharist and the priest states “On the night he was betrayed.” Jesus put walking in the midst of suffering into practice in a way that we strive for, as scripture reminds us he was faithful…even to death.

Second, the topic of forgiveness is one that I may address at some point but is so very difficult. The easy part is our responsibility in working toward justice for others, when we are witnesses to wrong doing that does not involve us we must take the role of prophet and speak, “Thus saith the Lord…this shit is wrong.”

The hard part is the ongoing posture of forgiveness. My experience in this area is very rocky, there are people who I have worked very hard to forgive in a moment when circumstance in my life change I realize that I need to forgive in that present moment. I’m not sure how much of Dan Allender you have read but his thoughts on this topic have been helpful for me. In the last year I went through a dark period and realized that my forgiveness needed to move deeper.

Tied in there somewhere is wisdom gained from being wounded, often times the Christian way of forgive and forget leads to unhealthy patterns…I am sure you would never go to work for/with that guy again…yes he deserves grace but that does not mean you need to bear the brunt again of his sanctification. I have also worked with people that have done tremendous evil, personally as a steward of God’s Kingdom and of the family God has provided me it is my responsibility as best I can to not submit to evil authority. Jesus only had to go to the cross once, there are appropriate sacrifices and martyrdom…and then there is a unhealthy martyrdom complex that I find with many Christians. (and I myself have bought into during times in my life, suffering comes you don’t have to chose the path)

The word may not be ‘shocked’ by the presence of sin, but there is an appropriate place to call out to God, we pray ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’. The kingdom again is in the here and now, so today I did cry for those families who’s children are not coming home safe from school, also I sent out my holiday cards for work because that was my way of spreading some good while feeling completely powerless..seemed the only way for me not to run to my daughters school and bring her home:) I really like how you put it ‘be a living example to all men of how to actually live in our daily tempos’, we are different and our lives should reflect that. We have the ability to grieve like no one else and we have the ability to party like no one else.

Obviously I am grateful for the discussion. Feel free to let me know if you have any thoughts.

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A reflection on embracing your inner self, from a middle ager inspired by middle earth

In art,Books,C.S. Lewis,Community,culture,devotional,faith,Fun,Lord of the Rings,movies,poetry,The Hobbit,Theology,Uncategorized on December 14, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , , ,

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This last week I was inspired by listening to Malcolm Guite‘s talk from Kindlings Summer Fest, the third of a series of three. ¬†We attended Summer Fest but were out ‘living’ the topic he spoke of, primarily being the¬†recipients¬†of amazing Orcas Island hospitality from our hosts…they took us on a tour of the island on the boat, simply amazing! ¬†If you have not heard of Malcolm or The Kindlings it would be worth checking out. ¬†The podcast is in the archive and joining Kindlings as an Associate is well worth the $2/month to listen to the content. ¬†His talk was titled,

Malcolm Guite ‚Äď Finding our Way Forward Beyond Generational Apartheid ‚Äď Live from Kindlings Fest 2012¬†

 

In the talk Malcolm covers some amazing points on how to reconnect across generations, his first two points will be the focus of my thoughts today:

  • You Yourself are Intergenerational! Start by remembering and befriending your inner child, the one that dreamed Dreams and saw visions.
  • If you are a youth still in touch with your inner child, how about getting in touch with your outer adult?

There are parts of who you have been created as a person that were transparent when you were a child and over time you ‘learned’ that those things were wrong, immature, or even shameful. ¬†While yes there are ‘childish’ ways that we are encourage to let go of, that is not what I’m talking about here. ¬†I’m talking about that calling from Jesus to be ‘childlike’. ¬†When you ask a kindergarten class to raise their hands if they are an artist, almost every hand will be in the air…yes this is probably because they love raising their hand but also that there is a love and passion for creating and learning. ¬†By middle school that entire poll completely changes as perhaps a few kids will raise their hands while most will look around to watch what their peers are doing. ¬†How does that middle schooler get back in touch with that kindergartner? ¬†A better question might be ‘how do I get back in touch with that child in me’?

Last night as my wife and I went to the midnight showing of The Hobbit, an unexpected journey, I was struck by a few small points around this topic.  First, the story is told generationally.  The way it is framed is Bilbo Baggins is writing his adventures to his cousin Frodo Baggins, they are more than seventy years apart and therefore this connection is intergenerational.  Also it is a time for Bilbo as he is entering a late stage of life to reflect upon his adventurous middle life experiences.  Lastly, when Gandalf describes why he chose such an unlikely home-body as Bilbo to Bilbo himself, Gandalf reminds Bilbo of his youthful adventurous spirit that had been all but replaced by reading and looking at maps as an adult. Bilbo is brought face to face with the need to embrace the passions of his childhood and realize them as an adult.

One small aside this embracing of childhood passion can be a perverted immaturity as a grownup child plays with expensive and dangerous toys at the expense of others to fulfill selfish desires, the guard against this is clear from the movie…other centeredness. ¬†Bilbo embraces the adventure for the sake of reclaiming a home for the dwarves, be a child and then live passionately and childlike for another’s good!

Let’s also remember what I just described is the part of “getting in touch with your outer adult”. ¬†There is a beauty that comes along with age, that of wisdom, loyalty and integrity. ¬†These are also why Bilbo was chosen for the journey, fear would cause him to doubt his place at moments. ¬†The beauty of having a hobbit on the journey..and in this world is that they are the only ones of such great¬†character (especially the Baggins)¬†that they can carry the ring.

Today there are a few practical things I want to encourage you in. ¬†First, reflect on your passions from your childhood. One for me was the grandfather clock in our house, hands down the most valuable possession in meaning to my family. ¬†I grew up with a love of that clock and when an opportunity arose to be involved with making a clock, my passions from childhood were ignited. ¬†Second, sing a song or read a poem or riddle…today. There is a beauty and inspiration that cannot be captured in words by doing this. ¬†Christopher Alexander in his masterpiece, The Timeless Way of Building, ¬†captures this well…he spends an entire book describing how this nameless power is present in good (true) architecture.

I will leave you with the powerful ¬†words of C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,¬†‚ÄúIt means,‚ÄĚ said Aslan, ‚Äúthat though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge only goes back to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor‚Äôs stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.‚ÄĚ

Seek the deeper magic today.

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Vision: further reflections on the corporate mystic

In art,blogging,Books,business,Community,devotional,Fun,generosity,leadership,principles,Theology on December 5, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged:

“One can’t believe impossible things.” “I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age I always did it for a half-an-hour a day. Why, I sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” -Lewis Carroll

The first time I heard this quote was at least four years ago when my oldest daughter was doing Through The Looking Hlass at Stone Soup Theater camp. Even as I read it I hear her voice from practicing the part, still causes me concern that it was the Queen who said it, such an angry ambitious woman sure for it right when it comes to vision. Perhaps that is why she was as successful as she was.

Science fiction is very helpful to me in this area of vision. An exercise I attempt daily is to think about something I have seen or read about that I want to become real. One example from my work is translation via telepathy. That one should be able to merely think of the words desired to be translated which would be shared telepathically with the translator and returned. Wrestle through this long enough and other creative interesting ideas and new methods will emerge, and perhaps one day it may be possible.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” -Albert Einstein

There must be space in our lives carved out for this purpose. For me it begins with having daily goals clearly defined, if the minimum requirements for success in a day are not defined by me early in the day I will find time for nothing more then trying to remain busy. Once I know the three to five things I need to accomplish in a day I feel the freedom to dream. Whether I have scheduled that half hour or more does not make a difference and as a matter of fact often I cannot schedule it because the time is inspired from ideas that I a playing with related to other more concrete tasks.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

There are so many wonderful things yet to be done in this world, why not be a part of it. It begins with your thought life. It is hard to battle through the negative records that play in your head as Anne Lamot says, One tells you that you are the greatest thing in the world and the other tells you that you are worthless both are lies and the truth exists in the silence. Discover who you really have been create to be, take a moment to dream about be the world could be better, then prayfully move into a world that is waiting for your unique contribution. We all will be better for it.

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Integrity: theme for the week and continuing The Corporate Mystic

In Books,Community,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,family,generosity,journal,leadership,mission,Money,Uncategorized on November 30, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , , , ,

Each month (when I am not traveling for work) I attend a great networking event here in ¬†Seattle called Kiros, yesterday there was a striking talk on “Crossing the line” by Mark Sabo. This was Mark’s personal story of his failure in business regarding integrity and the consequences that followed. ¬†Personally I was struck by what a small decision by Mark led to such very serious consequences. ¬†The point that hit home for me (again) was this idea of identity. ¬†Mark, like myself, considered himself a man of integrity and yet he was able to justify his later regretable actions. ¬†As many say, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” ¬†Seeing yourself as a person of integrity is not enough, often times that view leads to the least common denominator and efforts to do the bare minimum. ¬†What is needed, what I need is something greater than myself to guide my actions daily.

In¬†The Corporate Mystic¬†the author states, “The first question to ask is whether you are out of integrity with yourself. ¬†Are you genuinely at ease with the path you are on?” ¬†Many successful people are working to heal a wound from their family, perhaps earn recognition from a loved one that never expressed it. ¬†In my case I worked ¬†(and often work) to overcome shame that has been present in my life and in my family story for generations. ¬†This is a dry well to pull from, and only when you are able to step back to you realize that. “Many of us learn very early to tune out inner signals, and the long-run costs of this are enormous…Happiness flows from a clear spring: You need to have a totally honest relationship with yourself.” ¬†This is a key reason I believe that how people answer who they have been created to be is key to all of life: personal, spiritual, professional, and family.

A friend shared on facebook today the article,¬†Success Will Come and Go, But Integrity is Forever¬†by Amy Rees Anderson, a very good article that inspired me. ¬†The last few lines of the article are very powerful, “If you want to build a reputation as a person of integrity then surround yourself with people of integrity.¬†There is a plaque on the wall of my office which reads: ‚ÄúDo what is right, let the consequence follow.‚ÄĚ It serves as a daily reminder that success will indeed come and go, but integrity is forever.” ¬†I couple that with a friend who’s dad gave him the advice in college, “Know who you are before you go into the party.”¬†Integrity¬†is not something that is learned on the fly, life is too hard and our minds are too easily tricked. ¬†It is essential for all people (including business people) to take time to do the tough personal and spiritual work to find the source of integrity, and the reward is well worth it. ¬†As¬†Amy Rees Anderson states success will come and go, your character is what you are stuck with.

“I contend that dishonesty will create a failure force that often manifests itself in other ways-ways not apparent to the outside observer.” -Joseph Sugarman